The 60s Experience: Hard Lessons about Modern America

The 60s Experience: Hard Lessons about Modern America

The 60s Experience: Hard Lessons about Modern America

The 60s Experience: Hard Lessons about Modern America


In recent years, the 1960s have been placed under the magnifying glass of media retrospectives, anniversary commemorations, college and university courses, personal memoirs, and reassessments of specific events and personalities. This second wave of reflection makes it abundantly clear that the turmoil and emotions of that era maintain a powerful hold on the imaginations of many Americans, as well as those in other parts of the world.

Yet questions remain. "What did it all mean?" "Why did the Sixties happen?" And, "What do the 1960s mean for the contemporary world?" Today's young people bring a fresh perspective to these inquiries. They ask, "What were the Sixties?" "Why were students so idealistic, so active, and so angry?"

This book offers one kind of response to these questions -- an interpretation grounded in the experiences and political education of 1960s movements in the United States. It represents my belief that Sixties experiences tell us a great deal about America and the modern world, that they speak to the struggles and crises of today and tomorrow. The Sixties were not the mythical time the mass media tend to recreate. Nor were they a time to be washed away and forgotten. The times are quieter today, but the problems are no less compelling.

Sixties movements were grounded in a democratic vision that is as compelling today as it was then: a belief that all people should be full members of society, that individuals become empowered through meaningful social participation, and that politics ought to be grounded on respect and compassion for the individual person. Sixties politics were infused with a quest for community-the sense of place, belonging, and purpose gained from engagement with others.

Through their agitation for change, Sixties movements exposed fundamental tensions between their democratic vision and the institutions of everyday life in the United States. Movement experiences demonstrated that the struggle for a truly democratic society is undermined by many forces: by a common fear of taking risks, by the cooptive preoccupation with self-advancement, and by the resistance of entrenched interests.

They also demonstrated how fleeting and vulnerable real community is.

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